How can a coat of arms have guns on it?

The other day I was hanging out with a friend and whilst surfing the internet, came across a historical website that sells you your family coat of arms on stuff like mugs and shirts and whatnot. The website has a search function allowing you to see your family’s ‘coat of arms.’ (Of course, I know that not everyone with a given last name is technically entitled to that coat of arms, only royal ancestors who actually earned one through merit or noble birth.)

Anyway this guy’s last name was ‘Hopkins,’ so he entered his name into the searcher and a coat of arms with GUNS on it came up. (Here it is)

Maybe I’m mistaken but I thought that these coats of arms date back to medieval times, so how can one have flint-lock muskets on it? Was this particular coat of arms invented arbitrarily in the 1600s or something?

Well…first of all, that site is bogus, so I wouldn’t trust anything they say about anything. Second, arms are granted by the appropriate office in the country of origin, and they are still granted today. There is no reason a British gazillionaire couldn’t design his coat of arms to have a joint, a gaggle of hookers, and a Lambourghini on it. As long as the College of Arms(?) says it’s ok, then that is that.

You’re mistaken. Coats of arms have been designed and granted to various families, houses, military units, organizations, etc. right up until last week.

Ther Brits keep knighting people and creating minor nobility. (For all I know, the Swedes, Dutch, and Spaniards do likewise.) Heraldry is the way that those people identify themselves in various situations, so new heraldic designs continue to be created. (This is not to claim that Mr. Hopkins has a genuine or legitimate heraldic device, but the presence of guns does not discredit the claim.)

Note, also, that the “guns” appear to be flintlock pistols, so the arms could have been created as early as the early eighteenth century. Thomas Malory, who wrote Le Morte D’Arthur was a knight. In the final chpters of the book, Arthur protests the use of cannon against his people–pretty anachronistic for a sixth century Camelot, but showing the overlap between Renaissance knights and firearms.

Yeah that website is bogus.
They only sent me a “Vest of Arms”.

In the United Kingdom, arms are granted, officially by the Crown, in point of fact by the College of Arms (Scotland having a separate College under the Lord Lyon). While it’s technically incorrect to say that only the heir of line of a given grant of arms may display those arms (his wife, his heir, and various relatives are entitled to use them, properly differenced), neither is it true that anyone descended from an armigerous person may display his arms. You didn’t inherit his castle or estate, so what makes you think you’re entitled to the arms that went with them?

Most European countries, even republics, have preserved a heraldic establishment of some sort to regulate the arms belonging to older and otherwise armigerous families. Ireland established one on becoming independent of the U.K.

The situation in America is quite different. Since sovereignty is vested in the people corporately, and they have not chosen, through Congress or the states, to regulate the use of arms, any citizen may adopt a coat of arms which suits him, often an adaptation of his ancestors’ arms. What he may not do, though this is ethical rather than legal in nature, is to adopt the undifferentiated arms of his ancestors, unless he happens to be the heir of line.

And companies which purport to “discover your family arms for you” are 99% of the time scams, though occasionally you’ll find someone who actually knows heraldry and will give you the straight bill of goods on what your ancestors had, if anything, and what you can properly do with regard to them.

BTW, a “coat of arms” is a garment, a tabard, worked with the particular arms borne by the person wearing it or the person to whom the wearer is in service. It’s considered gauche to use it to refer to any other display of one’s heraldic arms. Properly, the shield bearing the heraldic symbols is called “a shield” or “an escutcheon” – which in noble families and certain other folks specially honored by the Crown is surmounted by a helmet with a crest based loosely on the arms, and separately awarded. Noble families and a few others have supporters – the people or animals at either side of the shield, ostensibly holding it up. If there are supporters, they stand on a ribbonlike strip called the comportment, which may display the family motto. (The motto is something the armigerous person selects for himself, unless the Crown specifically awards one as a mark of honor.) And unlike the other stuff, the motto belongs to all family members. The whole mess taken together is called the achievement, in this case a concrete noun rather than the more common meaning of the word.

Differencing your arms may be done by placing a label – a strip with a (usually odd) number of danglers – across the upper portion of it, by displaying a border, by reversing the colors, or by placing a baton or baton sinister – a diagonal bar crossing the shield but ending before the edge – atop the arms, etc. A white label with three descenders is the mark of the eldest son during his father’s lifetime; one with five descenders marks the eldest son of the eldest son, if he is of age to use arms during his grandfather’s life.

So if you’re descended from a family with argent, a horse rampant gules as the family arms (a red horse rearing on silver or white background), some fourth cousin in England owns the right to use those arms – but as an American, you’re entitled to adapt them and begin using them. So place a wavy red border on the shield, and you have a good-looking set of arms.

As the sole great-great-grandson in my paternal line, which cannot be proven to link back to the rest of the family, but which evidently is connected to an armigerous family that displayed “sable, on a fess argent a boar courant of the first,” I could simply reverse that (which I prefer) to “argent, on a fess sable a boar courant of the first” – but since I’m far from the only descendant of the guy with the arms, I modify it by “…on a fess sable bordered gules…” (This translates to, originally, a black shield, with a white horizontal bar occupying the middle third, and on that bar a black wild boar depicted as running; for me, reverse the black and white colors of the original, and add a thin red border to the black horizontal bar.)

That’s odd – all the books of heraldry I’ve read (and the heraldic authorities I’ve consulted) use the term “coat of arms” throughout the texts. The VERY gauche (well, plain incorrect) thing is using the word “crest” to mean a shield or achievement of arms.

Shield and Crest by Julian Franklyn devotes three pages to firearms, including cannon, mortars (called culverins), shot of various kinds, bombs (appearing in the arms of no less than Lord Nelson), grenades, matchlocks, flintlocks, and pistols.

For your interest, here is the web page of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, a government body that is part of the office of the Governor General.


Here in GQ we appriciate more than your assertion “first of all, that site is bogus”

That site may very well be bogus, just dont expect anyone to take your word for it.

OP those are not “flintlock muskets” depicted on the crest. Actually it’s worse, the presence of a trigger guard and the general shape of the pistols leads me to belive they are cap-lock dueling pistols.

Look here for example

The history of guns extends back far enough that the people we call “knights” would most certainly have seen them.

Excuse me. Since my mother is a geneologist, I tend to summarily dismiss sites that are patently scams. I checked their data, or the snippits of it they tease you with against known records from our family. They made up their data. Therefore, it is bogus.

What makes it harder to distinguish bogus from real is that any number of sites, this one included, have a lot of data that is accurate. Or close, anyway. But any place that would offer you arms to display, just because you have that last name, is a scam. Period. You don’t have to take my word for it; you should be able to figure that out by yourself.

It’s true. Arms are not the property of a person who has that last name. You can’t go “My name is McLauchlin” and expect to find ‘your’ coat of arms.

Arms are personal property that may be transmitted by inheritance; in order to rematriculate a historic coat of arms undifferenced, one must prove that one has a hereditary right to inherit them.

A fortiori, arms are not “legal” or “official” just because somebody with your last name happened to have them; the only way to legally register arms is to register them with the state heraldic authority of one’s country either of nationality or (if that country has no heraldic authority, as with the US) of descent.

In other words, sites offering the service that site does are selling falsehoods.

My coat of arms sports an M14 on the left and an FAL on the right… :cool:

Very true about “crest” for arms generally; regarding “coat of arms,” I only reported what I have read. It’s entirely possible my source (Fox-Davies) had a case of entomoproctosis* on the subject.

[COLOR=Silver]* That would be “a bug up the ass” ;)[color]

I know that site!

It showed me that Ukrainian peasants who had their names “Americanized” almost a hundred years ago have a very nice Coat of Arms with a golden lion on a blue field.

Yes, I did look up my own family. They even had the nationality wrong. I hesitated to look up my Hungarian ancestors, as the magyar heraldry is of a different type, and I didn’t need to know how many dead Turks are on my family’s sheild…

You seem very knowledgeable about heraldry, but I think you’re wrong about this. At least, I thought that under British heraldry rules, any male descendant could use the arms, although they had to be “differenced”. So you’re correct that only the “head of the family” may bear the original arms that were granted, but his descendants are entitled to use differenced versions of those arms. All of which doesn’t contradict the fact that if you picked up your arms out of a list in a magazine advertisement, they’re not likely to be yours.

On the continent, it’s much the same, although the arms need not be differenced. By no means was every armigerous person noble or royal, either. Frequently, on the Continent, the use of arms would begin out of necessity among civil officials, who needed a way to seal documents.

You are both saying the same thing: since more than one male could not use the same coat, it had to be differenced.

Spectre, I don’t think we’re disagreeing. Here’s my point – I have no claim to the William Wilbor arms I blazoned above, since there are senior heirs before me. As an American, though, I have a right to use heraldic arms, of my own devising, not claiming someone else’s, since the state has not opted to regulate their assumption and use. If I were a Brit, I would be obliged to matriculate a set of arms with the College of Heralds or the Lyon Office, as appropriate, properly differentiated according to their rules – I could not simply assume them as I can here.

That clarification in place, are we in disagreement?

As a practical matter, Poly, you could assume arms in England if you wanted to, as there is no law against bogus heraldry. (In Scotland, it is a crime.) But unmatriculated arms borne by an American are no more valid than unmatriculated arms borne by an Englishman. If you wish to register arms, you can typically do so with the heraldic authority of the country of your ancestry, if it has one.

Well, as a matter of common practice, you’re right, matt. But there is an actual 20th Century court case, held in the Earl Marshal’s Court (which probably hadn’t been convened in over 100 years before that) in which the City of Birmingham sued a vaudeville music hall over its use of the Birmingham City arms, and got an injunction forcing them to stop using them. So there’s precedent for the rightful owner of arms to force someone else using them to cease and desist.

That’s a little different; that’s infringing on somebody else’s existing legal arms, as opposed to just coming up with your own.

Coats of Arms did not stop in 1066 (or whatever) modern arms are designed and changed all the time.

One of our (American) Infantry Regiments suffered a huge loss when torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland. Their coat now have a white torpedo with a green shamrock on it.